Meter madness mounts as drivers hit by increase in parking fines

HIP POCKET: Office of State Revenue data shows Newcastle City Council inspectors handed out an average of 50 tickets a week, the most in the Hunter Region. The number of tickets issued in Newcastle was 10 times the number issued in Lake Macquarie.
HIP POCKET: Office of State Revenue data shows Newcastle City Council inspectors handed out an average of 50 tickets a week, the most in the Hunter Region. The number of tickets issued in Newcastle was 10 times the number issued in Lake Macquarie.

HUNTER motorists are being slugged almost $17,000 a day in parking fines - not including those issued by police - with authorities insisting they are motivated by the public good, not revenue raising.

Office of State Revenue data obtained by the Newcastle Herald reveals that Newcastle City Council has the region's most zealous parking enforcement officers, each issuing an average more than 50 tickets a week.

Newcastle has 10 parking officers and they issued 22,347 fines in the 10 months to May, at an average of 2234 per officer, earning the council $2.9 million.

This is a jump of more than 30 per cent in the number of fines handed out when compared to the same time the year before, when 16,952 tickets were issued in the 10 months to May 2016. 

A Newcastle City Council spokeswoman said there “were no easy solutions” and the needs of residents, businesses, workers and visitors had to be met.

She said the number of meters had dropped from 378 two years ago to 359. 

“It will continue to reduce as transport changes occur in the inner city as part of the revitalisation program and construction of the light rail,” she said.  

According to the data, the University of Newcastle has taken over from Lake Macquarie City Council as the second biggest issuer of parking fines in the region.

Parking-related notices issued by the university were on track to more than double last financial year.

The university raised $492,553 in the 10 months to May from 4556 infringement notices, compared to $281,112 from 2652 notices in 2015-16.

Newcastle University Student Association president Michael Labone said students simply couldn’t afford parking tickets.

“I have to question the university why students have to pay parking here at all,” Mr Labone said. “The extra cost of fines just means that students won’t eat.”

A University of Newcastle spokeswoman said drivers had to follow the rules to ensure a “safe environment”. 

Motorists have the best chance of escaping a parking fine in the Upper Hunter and Singleton council areas, where officers issued just one fine each in the year to May. 

Hunter New England Health decreased the number of fines it handed out from 2450 in 2015-16, to 1813 in the 10 months to May. Over the same period, the Hunter Development Corporation increased its take from fines from $325,670 to $368,184.

Revenue from parking fines and meters is an integral part of many council and institution budgets.

Janice Wright, of Maitland, said parking in Newcastle CBD was getting “harder and harder by the day”.

The daily commuter said public transport was a “nightmare at the moment” and “not even worth considering”. She fears a combination of new residential high-rise developments and the University of Newcastle’s move to the CBD will compound the issue.

“Here’s hoping we don’t get to the crazy level that Sydney is where you need to take out a second mortgage to get a car park,” she said. “I’m just hoping things don’t get too much worse when all the students move into town, there’s hardly any new car spaces at the university’s new building.”

Parking prices increased at Honeysuckle’s three off-street car parks in March, with the daily rate going to $8 and the hourly rate to $3. The Hunter Development Corporation rises were the first in four years.

The council’s spokeswoman said meters and timed parking were needed to “ensure a turnover of vehicles”. “Enforcement is also a tool that is used to ensure a portion of parking spaces remain available,” she said. “Without enforcement, it is unlikely there would be sufficient turnover of vehicles to meet the parking needs of residents and visitors.”

Parking has been a point of contention in the state government’s Revitalising Newcastle plans. Critics say the light rail will rob Newcastle of hundreds of car-parking spaces, while public transport advocates say parking is too cheap in Newcastle, and that lifting prices will encourage people to get out of their cars.

Revitalising Newcastle’s parking strategy recommends cars be “intercepted” before entering the CBD, time limits on street parking should be slashed and Uber-style surge-based pricing for car parks be introduced.

The state government wants people to embrace “car-sharing” schemes, walk or ride a bike to work and use public transport.